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Good news on Topanga Beach water quality from Surfrider efforts!

November 20 2006 |
by Surfrider Foundation

Surfrider Foundation--Malibu Chapter volunteers have been working hard over the past year to try to solve the mystery of the poor water quality at Topanga Beach. Topanga has rated an "F" in water quality 75% of the time during 2005 and most of 2006, making it one of the lowest scoring beaches for water quality in Southern California.

Well, there's good news to report! And it shows what volunteers can do on specific ocean-related projects in our region. So, if you want to get involved too with Surfrider, let us know. Here's the good news on Topanga:

1. STATE PARKS DEPT. AGREES TO TEST ITS SEPTICS AT TOPANGA LAGOON! Surfrider wrote to Gov. Schwarzenegger in September urging that he get the State Parks Department to act on the poor water quality at Topanga Lagoon and Beach, including testing state-owned septic systems near the lagoon and beach. Malibu Chapter volunteers had discovered scientific studies on Topanga Lagoon earlier in the year showing that the old state-owned septics could very well be causing the poor water quality. Malibu volunteers had been frustrated by six months of little action on the problem by the State Parks, and the volunteers were preparing to organize a public protest and press conference at Topanga Beach if needed. To the credit of Governor Schwarzenegger and the State Parks Dept., prompt action was taken after receiving the Surfrider letter. In early October, State Parks agreed to test all of the active septic systems it owns in the Topanga Lagoon area, and to repair any malfunctioning systems. This was great news on a very important item!

2. TESTS SHOW ONE SEPTIC SYSTEM LEAKING INTO TOPANGA LAGOON. REPAIRS ORDERED. In late October, the first tests came back showing that, indeed, one state-owned septic system in the lagoon area, at the Cholada Thai Restaurant, was not working properly and was leaking human waste into the lagoon via an underground culvert. State Parks promptly ordered the system’s leech field closed, and ordered that the septic tank at the restaurant be pumped clean three times a week until a new, properly working leech field is installed. No one knows how long the Cholada septic system had been leaking, but this test result confirmed the suspicion of Malibu Chapter members and others that at least one septic system around the lagoon must have been malfunctioning to cause the persistent poor water quality problem at Topanga Beach.

3. FUNDING SECURED TO DEAL WITH ABANDONED SEPTICS AROUND LAGOON. the Malibu Chapter is concerned about several dozen septic systems left in the ground unpumped and unsealed when the houses around Topanga Lagoon were abandoned over the past few years. (The houses were purchased by the State Parks Dept. to be demolished in order to create an expanded lagoon and park in the future, which should ultimately benefit water quality at Topanga Beach). However, having full septic tanks in the ground could pose a future problem when the lagoon is expanded, or even now under certain conditions. Based on the concerns raised by Surfrider, State Parks has allocated $100,000 in special funding to study this situation and take initial steps to deal with the abandoned septics.

4. LIFEGUARD STATION SEPTIC SYSTEM TO BE TESTED. The County of Los Angeles has just agreed to test the septic system for the heavily-used County Lifeguard Station restrooms. That septic system overflowed on July 4, although the spill was contained in the Topanga Beach parking lot. Monitoring wells will be drilled around the septic system to measure over time whether it is leaking and whether it should be repaired or replaced.

5. WATER QUALITY RATINGS RISE AT TOPANGA AS SUMMER ENDS. After many months of “F” water quality at Topanga Beach, ratings have risen to “A” for most of the time since early August. See http://www.healthebay.org/brc/gradehistory.asp?beach=14 for current and past ratings on Topanga. This is most likely a result of a dry summer reducing the amount of water in Topanga Lagoon and thus reducing the number of breaches of the Lagoon into the ocean. If the Lagoon water is still polluted, we would notice a return of poor water quality when winter rains cause the Lagoon to breach more frequently in the coming months. But Surfrider volunteers are hopeful that the discovery and elimination of the Cholada septic problem in October and the other actions that State Parks and others are now taking will mean that water quality will stay good even when the rainy season returns.

Our work is not over! Malibu Chapter volunteers plan to continue monitoring the Topanga situation closely and to work with State Parks, Los Angeles County, and others toward the goal of the best possible water quality at Topanga Beach. We are hopeful that in the future we will be able to look at the above actions and their results as a good news story for water quality in the Santa Monica Bay.

If you want to get involved with other volunteers fighting for a clean and healthy ocean in our local area -- and in our world as a whole -- contact us, and keep visiting our website.

Aloha for now,

Surfrider Foundation -– Malibu Chapter
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